Lab Manager Academy: Under-Management Defined

Many people believe “undermanagement” does not provide: 1. Clear performance requirements for the job 2. Clear and measurable goals with deadlines 3. Performance metrics or feedback on a timely basis 4. Enough atta-boys or atta-girls. And they would be correct; however, there is also under-management when a manager’s body language is “telling on” him or her.

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Many people believe “undermanagement” does not provide:

1. Clear performance requirements for the job

2. Clear and measurable goals with deadlines

3. Performance metrics or feedback on a timely basis

4. Enough atta-boys or atta-girls

And they would be correct; however, there is also under-management when a manager’s body language is “telling on” him or her. How does that happen? It’s called micro-inequities and mixed messaging. Micro-inequities were first studied by Rowe in the early 1990s, while mixed messaging was studied by Burgoon in 1985. Rowe noted that micro-inequities are small discriminations or events that are often unrecognized by the perpetrator and often unintentional yet appear covert. Burgoon said that mixed messages occur when the person says one thing and their body says another. The good news is that once a lab professional becomes aware of these micro-inequities and mixed messages, and observes how they use them, they can then begin to self-regulate their behavior in order to improve long-term relationships with their staff and customers.

Here are some micro-inequities and mixed messages that you might experience in your lab:

A lab manager says she has an opendoor policy. When a staff member enters, she continues to work without looking up. Not taking the time to make eye contact is a message to the other person that they are invisible; they are not important. Without eye contact, the staff member won’t feel visible and it won’t take many of these encounters or micro-inequities before this person leaves the lab or disengages from his or her job.

When someone schedules a meeting with a staff member and then takes phone calls during the meeting, this sets a standard. Then when that staff member takes a call during a meeting and the manager berates him or her, a mixed message has been sent by that person and credibility and trust are diminished.

When a person stays seated behind his desk and puts the other person directly across the desk from him, they are in a confrontational position. Someone will win and someone will lose, and the other people involved probably do not feel comfortable.

When a lab manager leans back in his chair and crosses his arms as he speaks with a staff member, a message of defensiveness is being sent. The lab manager might not recognize his body language, but the staff member will.

When a lab manager’s hand is supporting her face with the index finger pointing up the cheek, the thumb cradling the chin and the middle finger cradling the lower lip, she is sending a message that says “I don’t believe a word you are saying.”

Under-management is about someone not being congruent when speaking with a staff person. In other words, what the manager is saying nonverbally does not match what she or he is saying verbally, or there are overt or covert discriminations. If you want to build mistrust and uncertainty in your lab, use micro-inequities, mixed messages and incongruence in your communication. If you want to build congruence, trust and credibility, eliminate these from your behavior.

Published In

Communicating Science Magazine Issue Cover
Communicating Science

Published: November 1, 2011

Cover Story

Communicating Science

The scientific community has historically taken a dim view of communications with nonscientific publics. No thanks, said scientists. What an imposition! Why bother? What good could possibly come from interrupting research, sticking our necks out and dumbing it down for non-scientific dunderheads, only to see them mismanage our findings?